2017 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Hope College

Social Inclusion and (Dis-)Ability in China:
Community-based Service Provision 

Mentor: Dennis Feaster, Assistant Professor of Social Work
Students: Kylie DeKryger, Abby Duran, Maria Garcia, and Gabbi Werner


Training group at GIFT in Zhengzhou, Henan

Project abstract

Issues associated with ability/disability and social inclusion have received considerable attention in the West in recent years, and have become more of a focus in East Asia. China in particular is faced with a number of challenges associated with opportunities for greater social inclusion of people with disabilities, including the development and expansion of community-based services and supports for children with disabilities and their families. Students and faculty worked with several nongovernmental (NGO) organizations to explore the ways that disability-related services are delivered in the cities of Beijing; Xian, Shaanxi; Zhengzhou, Henan; and the Hong Kong S.A.R. While many organizations in China have struggled with providing socially inclusive disability-related services, one Chinese NGO, GIFT, has developed an inclusive model that is at the forefront of community-based service provision. Students collaborated with GIFT staff and families to reinforce organizational goals of improving existing programs and expanding services for children and families in some of Henan’s second-tier cities through assessing stakeholder needs. In this process, four Hope College students were partnered with local students who volunteer with GIFT to assist with translation, information dissemination, data collection, and interpersonal dialogue for the duration of the experience. In this way, students developed real-world understanding of their Chinese peers, as well as gaining first-hand exposure to the strengths, needs, opportunities, and barriers experienced by families of children with disabilities in Henan.  Throughout the project, students assisted in providing child assessments; analyzed child welfare and disability-related policies and their implementation; and engaged with a variety of service delivery models relevant to their study of social work. In addition, partners in Zhengzhou requested capacity building interventions related to social work micropractice, program development and evaluation, and strategies to improve social inclusion. Students and their faculty mentor collaborated on developing these resources, and delivered these trainings together. Students utilized this process as a means of intercultural experiential learning that reinforced and deepened their understanding of social work practice. Students are sharing their findings and experiences in academic papers, conferences, and media.

Group Picture (Beijing)

Kylie DeKryger

During my group’s ASIANetwork experience in China, I was able to visit Beijing, Xi’an, Zhengzhou, and Hong Kong and experience the local culture, interact with social constructions—specifically related to people with disabilities—and organizations that serve this population, and build relationships with people whose wisdom and methods I will draw from in my social work career. We visited the Fred Hollows Foundation where I learned that building cross-cultural trust takes time and care. Also, non-governmental organizations in China often have to balance engaging with multiple levels of government and their organizational mission. In Xi’an, I interacted with Agape which works with children and youth with disabilities in care and vocational training. I learned that if people are partnered with a community of loving, committed people, they will go far in life, no matter where they come from or what their abilities are. In Zhengzhou, I developed my social work skills through helping to run parent/organization trainings and a focus group on logic models, program development, group therapy, and conflict management. I also headed up the teaching at a community training on disabilities inclusion in faith communities. These experiences taught me a lot about myself and helped me to narrow the direction I would like to go in social work and ministry. I learned about the dynamics of families with children with disabilities through stories and experience as we interacted with staff members from GIFT and interacted with parents and children both in trainings and on home visits. We also learned the basics of how to do family and home assessments in the child social work field. Finally, in Hong Kong we visited three organizations who all work with the continuum of care for people with disabilities. I learned the importance of networking and about the slightly-relaxed-but-ever-present social stigma surrounding people with disabilities, the child welfare system, and the families and communities associated with them.

What I have realized over the past year is that this project has been one of the most formative experiences I have ever had. Everything that I participated in and experienced in China last May has inspired me to press on through graduate school and into my career as a social worker with the many skills and interests I developed in China. I have discovered that working with families with difficulties is my true passion. My interaction with families in China who have children with disabilities, the social work skills I developed while working with staff and families there, my time in and out of the classroom at Hope College, and ongoing encouragement and mentoring from Dr. Feaster and other faculty members has allowed me to further develop this passion and plan practical steps to take in order to work with these populations effectively.

The skills I developed during my time in China in social work prepared me very well for working two days per week in my social work field practicum which is the final requirement for senior social work majors. I was able to adjust to my work with families facing homelessness, eviction, and poverty because of the core social work skills I developed while working with families and staff in China. These two experiences together have given me the basis needed to be accepted into the Advanced Standing Master of Social Work program at Western Michigan University (WMU), where I will be studying for the next ten months. I will be able to engage in a trauma-focused Master’s-level internship during my program and I am confident that my previous experiences with families with disabilities in China and families facing poverty and a housing crisis in the US will propel me into success with this new population as well. These experiences in China, at Hope College, and at WMU will also set me up for a lifetime career in social work. I look forward to making a difference in this world using my experiences in China, the foundational skills I have developed over the past few years, and the more refined skills I will develop over the next decades.

Meeting with members of the Fred Hollows Foundation in Beijing, discussing their organizational practice model

Abby Duran

Our group spent three and a half weeks in various cities across China, mainly working alongside GIFT, an organization in Zhengzhou that provides support services for families of children with disabilities. We led a series of trainings for families and staff and conducted some home visits and child consultations as well. Throughout the trip, I learned an immense amount about the lived realities for individuals, particularly children, with disabilities in China. I had the chance to understand a bit of the immense risks they face, which include entering congregate care, separating from their families, and facing severe stigma or judgment from the dominant culture. Engaging with Chinese culture, which is still developing inclusive support services for disabled individuals, opened my eyes to realities for vulnerable populations and the differing standards of care provided across the globe. Additionally, the opportunity to engage with the collectivist culture of China allowed me to develop greater empathy for children with disabilities while also increasing my knowledge of Chinese cultural elements. It exposed me to a society whose values and patterns of interaction are, in some ways, very different from those in my culture of origin. Thus, I had the opportunity to grow and develop skills in many areas, including cultural competence, interview skills, and assessment skills. My experience in China has solidified my desire to work globally and has encouraged me to take a job in Haiti following graduation. The position will involve working with children with disabilities, the same population we interacted with in China.

As I have had time to think through the ASIANetwork trip I took a year ago, I see lasting effects that the grant and my time in Asia still have on my professional skill set.  The effects of these acquired skills have rippled out to my professional internships and current employment.

My trip to China with ASIANetwork gave me the opportunity to practice applying interviewing and assessment skills with children and families dealing with disabilities. These skills included a lot of effective client-clinician communication. I felt that I grew significantly in my ability to build a therapeutic rapport with children of a variety of ages during assessments, mainly with children on the autism spectrum. The chance to research in China also helped me sharpen my ability to respect a client’s culture while still working to engage and intervene as clinically appropriate.

Perhaps the biggest skill I worked on during my research and stay in China was the ability to work on an interdisciplinary professional team to meet a child’s needs. Anytime social workers intervene with children, particularly those with disabilities, collaboration with speech therapists, psychologists, parents, teachers, and other staff is both crucial and helpful. I had many opportunities for interdisciplinary work with a speech and language pathologist and local NGO staff on home visits and developmental assessments. The research we conducted and the experiences I had in China impacted my skill level in my undergraduate internship, my ability to succeed in my current job, and my plans for future social work education and training.

My full-time field placement to finish my Bachelor of Arts in Social Work involved extensive work with children and families of minority backgrounds. Many of the families I interacted with spoke primarily Spanish and many of the children were assessed for cognitive and physical delays. I found myself drawing significantly upon my cross-cultural experience in China, as I attempted to bridge the gap between myself and families, communicate their child’s needs, and appropriately obtain services for the family. I also collaborated extensively with classroom teachers, parents, speech therapists, and behavior aides during my internship. My ability to and confidence level in coordinating with so many other professionals was definitely augmented by my interdisciplinary experience in China. I felt better prepared during my field placement as a result of my ASIANetwork experience.

My ASIANetwork experience also impacts my recent transition into the workforce. My current job involves work with children with socio-emotional issues in a therapeutic day school. My typical workday involves frequent use of de-escalation techniques and interviewing skills that I also honed during family and child assessments on the ASIANetwork trip.  Many times, these skills are used primarily with children on the autism spectrum or children with other developmental disabilities, as we experienced in China.

While in China, we also led sessions with parents about communication and nonverbal cues with children with special needs. I find myself applying this information with children on the autism spectrum at work, especially when we are teaching students how to use language and nonverbal cues to communicate their needs and interpret others’ responses.

My time in China, thanks to the ASIANetwork grant, showed me that working with families and with those affected by disabilities is an area of my profession that I am extremely passionate about. It led me to seek out an undergraduate social work internship and employment revolving largely around the special needs population. My ASIANetwork experience was also a significant factor in my decision to attend Loyola University in Chicago. I will begin my graduate studies in August to obtain my Master of Social Work with an emphasis in school-based practice, where much of my time will be spent with children with disabilities. I realized that in order to continue working effectively with this client population long-term, my master’s degree and educator’s license are necessary.

The ASIANetwork grant provided me the opportunity to explore areas of the social work field that are of the most interest to me, thus helping me begin the process of moving from generalist practice towards a specialty within the field. The ASIANetwork grant program has been impactful by allowing me to examine my strengths and passions within my profession while continuously working towards cross-cultural practice and higher education.

Working with staff and stakeholders at the Agape offices in Xian, Shaanxi

Maria Garcia

Three fellow students, a mentor, and I, had the privilege of traveling to four different cities in China for three and a half weeks. During our time there, we traveled to different organizations: Fred Hollows Foundation, Agape, GIFT (whom we spend majority of our time with), Qisehua, International China Concern, Mother’s Choice, and the Home of Loving Faithfulness. We also, partook in tourism, such as going to the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall of China in Badaling, going to see the Terracotta Warriors, The Bell Tower, and The Drum Tower. While in China, the biggest issue that I learned about is the lack of assistance for individuals with disabilities in the welfare system. Even with a lack of assistance, I learned that there are many NGOs that are doing their best to conserve families and better support them, as well as, providing better support in welfare institutes and the education system.  I was presented with China’s collectivist culture, which allowed me to better understand the social structure. This was especially important because to be able to serve a group, one must engage in conversation ad try to understand their perspective. Because of this experience I had able to learn new skills about social work as a profession, and about myself as a person. Overall, this experience has provided me with a clearer path to continue to do international social work, and to learn more about early child intervention to gain better skills to better support them.

After our experience in China with the ASIANetwork, I fell in love with the people and its culture. Having grown up in a place where diversity is valued, experiencing the Chinese culture first-hand was the best experience I have ever had. The hospitability, curiosity, compassion, and various perspectives I encountered made this experience what it was.

Because of this program, I have also discovered the connections between micro- and macro-practice. My experiences in China opened my eyes to macro-practice social work, especially related to social policy. I was fascinated by how the different political systems played a role in China, after taking a contemporary social policy with Dr. Feaster and seeing how many of the things we spoke about functioned in China. This makes me want to further my knowledge in the social/political arena, especially with the way that other countries’ social systems function.

The ASIANetwork student-faculty fellowship built me up to be proud of what I have done as a student, but most importantly I was able to increase my confidence as a social worker. I have learned that grades are only a portion of what one needs to be successful; however, it is the learning and the experiences that truly build one’s future. As I mentioned before, I was able to learn about what I want to focus in the future. I am now considering going to graduate school for my Master of Social Work degree, with a focus in public policy.

 Training group at Qisehua in Zhengzhou, Henan

Gabbi Werner

One year has passed since our team of social workers embarked on our ASIANetwork project in China. Preliminary reflections on our time in China encouraged me to think of my experience in both abstract and specific ways in regard to their impact on my professional and personal development and preparation. The connections that we forged with our partners across China have deeply impacted my way of approaching relationships and community development in an international context. Through working with Jiefu/GIFT, I was and still am in awe of what a small but determined group of people can do for a population that has been largely ignored. These people are my inspiration for innovation in community development, demonstrating courage and determination in the effort to serve individuals with disabilities.

The work that we did alongside Jiefu and other organizations throughout China have equipped me with practical and professional skills that I have been able to utilize in my practice as a social worker since returning from China; I also gained skills I plan to use in my future career. This past semester, I completed my senior year social work field practicum at a homeless shelter in Chicago, IL where I became a part of their community development and casework teams. Because of my experience through the ASIANetwork, I was prepared for the grant writing, community outreach, individual client interaction, and the professional initiative needed to succeed and thrive at my internship. Several of our clients were individuals with disabilities, and by using tools I learned through our project in China, I was able to better serve these particular clients through connecting them with proper services.

Similar to disabilities services in China, services for individuals experiencing homelessness are severely lacking in funding across the United States. Due to the community development skills gained in China, I was able to assist the shelter in connecting with community organizations that provide complimentary services to the shelter. In addition to community development skills, I gained experience in group facilitation and program evaluation while in China. I also learned the art of cross cultural conversation facilitated through a translator. Each of these skills has informed my personal life as well as my future professional aspirations and interests.

When considering my next steps after college, I looked back to the experiences gained in China as essential in informing the decisions I would make for my future. I found a passion for international community development and program evaluation through this project, and I have been able to integrate this passion into my graduate education. I have been accepted into the University of Michigan (U of M) to pursue a Master of Social Work focusing on community organization. This program concentration works primarily with communities and social systems, which also includes policy practice and program evaluation. In efforts to continue with my interests in international social work, I applied and was accepted to the University of Michigan’s Global Activities Scholars Program. This program will assist me in finding an international field placement and will provide an academic framework to pursue further skills related to international development. In addition, our project through ASIANetwork brought program evaluation to my attention and has inspired me to pursue employment through the Program Evaluation Group at U of M.